The Path of Empathy in Dark Phoenix

This is the story of one of the X-Men’s most beloved characters, Jean Grey, as she evolves into the iconic DARK PHOENIX.  During a life-threatening rescue mission in space, Jean is hit by a cosmic force that transforms her into one of the most powerful mutants of all. — FoxMovies.com

A Difference of Opinion

I work at 20th Century Fox, now part of Disney, which is the studio behind Dark Phoenix, the latest and possibly last in the current X-Men series. Having disclosed this, I’d like to share some personal thoughts on the film’s message.

Critics have already chimed in with broadly negative reviews, and ticket sales significantly dropped after the film’s release. But I strongly disagree with the prevailing harsh criticisms. In fact, I’m not sure I saw the same film they did. 

Marvel Comics - Dark Phoenix
Marvel Comics – Dark Phoenix

Although I wish it had a longer runtime to enrich layers to the characters, the film is well-crafted, features brilliant Hans Zimmer music, and has an important message about empathy.

Context is the Key

In an interview with KCRW, the writer-director Simon Kinberg reflected his thoughts on the perceived failure of the film. 

“…it didn’t connect enough with audiences that did see it. So that’s on me.” He further elaborated, “People will come to see the movie differently, and out of the context of this particular moment, see things in it they will appreciate.” 

Simon Kinberg

Kinberg’s point about context is important. I watched the film twice as a father who understands difference and isolation, and in turn nurtures a daughter with similar experiences and anxieties.

Marvel Comics - Dark Phoenix
Marvel Comics – Dark Phoenix

The compassionate arc that Professor Xavier takes in this film as a father figure, along with his failings of protection amidst good intentions, has relatable symmetry within the framework of my own story. Primarily for that reason, the film deeply resonates within.

Fear is the Problem

As uniquely gifted individuals boldly reveal themselves, it can elicit fear of otherness, like that affecting the X-Men. In collective experience, this then shapes itself into a gripping vice of societal judgment and exclusion, hindering authentic expression. 

If constant and forceful, alienation can sneak deep within our souls. Once that happens, we become anchored to hardened moorings of self-doubt, indecision, and depression. We question our worth and our place in the larger scheme.

Marvel Comics - Dark Phoenix
Marvel Comics – Dark Phoenix

With these negative forces left unchecked, any gifts we have to offer the world instead become weaponized and destructive, to ourselves and others. An ongoing cycle of fear and isolation then gets reinforced, and we scream to be set free.

Empathy is the Solution

As Jean Grey found when rising like a phoenix from her pain-filled ashes, it is forgiveness, emotional connection, and the bond of family that can help liberate one’s soul. Often it also takes a loving, patient mentor to support one down that path, as exemplified by Professor X.

Empathy is the willingness of one to understand the fears, desires, and sufferings of another. It’s a heart of compassion that willingly acts to strengthen another after first understanding their needs. Although empathy can sometimes be as self-serving as it is altruistic, when done with gracious intent, it can transform a world of polarizing fear and division.

Marvel Comics - Dark Phoenix
Marvel Comics – Dark Phoenix

In this regard, I hope Dark Phoenix finds renewed engagement with fans on an emotional level. The film celebrates diversity and its power to evolve us into a sum that is greater than its parts. It also inspires us to be conduits of compassion for broken souls and for those struggling with being different.

Through honesty and empathy, we can help others embrace their authentic selves to discover they are not truly broken, but only temporarily astray from awakening their wondrous potential.

Christopher Pufall

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